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Church-Based Community Activism: A Comparison of Black and White Catholic Congregations



Scholars have recently examined the role of black churches in initiating civil rights and social justice activities, community development and rehabilitation projects, and family support and community health outreach programs. Practically all of this research has been on black Protestant churches. This article seeks to address this gap in the literature by investigating the extent to which African-American Catholic congregations engage in social action and social service programs in their communities. Data drawn from a nationwide survey of U.S. Catholic parishes are used to show that black churches are significantly more likely than white churches to engage in social service and social action activities independent of a variety of demographic, organizational, and structural factors known—or suspected—to influence activism. This finding lends support to the argument that the extra religious functions of black churches—Protestant and Catholic—are more deeply ingrained in these religious institutions than is suggested by some analysts. Equally significant is the finding of positive and significant relationships between churches that have parish councils and leadership training programs and congregational activism. This finding lends support to previous findings that suggest that the organizational structure of religious institutions may influence churchgoers' opportunities for learning and practicing civic skills relevant to community activism.